Nathan Danz milks 50 cows on a dairy farm belonging to his grandfather, who sold his own herd of dairy cows in 2003. 
PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
Nathan Danz milks 50 cows on a dairy farm belonging to his grandfather, who sold his own herd of dairy cows in 2003. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    LIVINGSTON, Wis. – This spring, Nathan Danz decided to take the plunge he’d been contemplating for a while, making the decision to embark on his own dairy farming career.
    “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Danz said. “Ever since high school, I’ve always had the dream of having cows back in this barn. It was just a matter of making it happen.”
    The barn that Danz always dreamed of filling back up with milking cows has belonged to his grandfather since 1980. His grandfather’s herd of milk cows left the farm in August 2003. Nearly 16 years later, armed with determination, Danz turned the milker pump on again June 27, milking his newly-acquired 50-cow herd.
    Following his high school graduation, Danz worked on his father’s farm, just a mile up the road. In 2016, after suffering an accident, Danz’s grandfather hired him to manage his herd of beef cows and steers, and run the farm’s cropland. During that time, Danz developed a plan to pursue his dreamed-of dairy career.
    In February, Danz made the decision to follow his dream. He began working on remodeling the barn, which had been used to raise bottle calves in the stalls.
    “It was quite the undertaking,” Danz said of bringing the barn back up to his standards for dairying. “I had to do it around the field work, the beef and everything else that needed to be done. It made for quite a few late nights.”
    Danz gave the barn a facelift, essentially gutting it, putting in all new supports and tiestalls to replace most of the old stanchions. He added four tunnel ventilation fans and put all new lighting in the barn.
    “The best thing I did was putting in the tunnel ventilation,” Danz said. “That was a blessing in the hot weather last month. I didn’t lose any milk production and was able to keep the cows really pretty comfortable.”
    Danz was fortunate the farm’s milking system remained in good shape throughout the years it sat unused. He only needed to obtain new milking units.
    After he started renovating the barn, news of his plans spread quickly in the small Grant County, Wis., farming community, and Danz was contacted by a neighboring dairy farmer looking to exit the business.
    “Paul Langkamp called and offered me his herd of about 60 total head of cows and a few heifers for replacements,” Danz said. “It seemed like a good fit, and I hoped it would allow me to keep a closed herd.”
    With the barn renovations underway and a herd of cows secured, Danz began looking for a market for his milk.
    “I started getting a little nervous. I got turned down by the first several places I contacted,” Danz said. “I finally talked to the field rep for Foremost Farms in Lancaster, Wis., and they were ready to take me on the truck as soon as I could get things ready for the cows.”
    Danz continued forward towards his goal, working with his grandpa to secure renting the farm’s 220 acres of crop ground to grow feed for his new dairy herd. He is raising corn, alfalfa and soybeans.
    “We had a lot of winterkill this last winter, about a third of the hay acres died off,” Danz said. “I’m feeding a lot of corn silage. I’m hoping I can skim by this year. I think I should be able to.”
    Things came together for Danz to move the Langkamp herd to his newly-renovated barn the morning of June 27.
    “The easiest part of the whole thing was moving the cows here,” Danz said. “The first trailer loaded at Paul’s at 7:30 a.m. and the last trailer unloaded here at 10:30 a.m. I had the milk inspector here at 2 p.m., and my first milking here was that evening.”
    Like all new ventures and all dairy farms, Danz’s early days of dairy farming weren’t without issues.
    Trying to keep the cows’ new environment as similar as possible to their old home, Danz installed gutter grates. However, the lack of bedding in the gutters caused him issues moving the manure up the chute.
    “I had to clean the gutters by hand, with a bucket,” Danz said. “The third day I took the grates out and bedded it heavy with straw, which allowed the barn cleaner to move the manure up the chute.”
    Age had apparently taken a toll on the compressor used to cool the milk, and Danz spent the first couple weeks of his new career working with service technicians trying to solve the issue.
    “There were several sleepless nights worrying about the compressor,” Danz said. “Eventually, we decided just to replace it. It was an expense I wasn’t planning on, but spending the money was better than worrying about it every day or losing a tank of milk and still having to replace it.”
    Having just passed the one-month anniversary of the cows coming home to Danzland Farm, Danz is happy with the progress he’s made.
    “I started with a bulk tank average of 62 pounds per cow, and I just hit 70 pounds,” Danz said. “The cows hardly missed a beat with the move or the hot weather. I was hoping to be to about 65 pounds now, so I’m really happy with how they are doing.”    
    The herd is currently averaging a 3.85% butterfat test. Danz’s goal is to work towards a butterfat of 3.95%.
    A TMR mix is fed to the cows three times a day, but Danz said he is a big believer in feeding long-stemmed hay before each milking, rather than putting the hay in the TMR mix.
    Danz does his own AI breeding for his herd and focuses his sire selection on breeding moderate-sized cows that have good feet and legs and good udders, as well as high components.
    As he continues on his journey, Danz wants to work on improving his somatic cell count, which averages 150,000.
    “I’d like to see the SCC lower. If it climbs close to 200,000 I get aggravated,” Danz said with a laugh.
    In working towards that goal, Danz is working on adding cow trainers to help keep the cows cleaner. He also tries to make a habit of regularly cleaning out each cow’s drinking cup during milking each day.
    Caring for the cattle on his own, Danz works with his father and brother to do fieldwork. In addition to the dairy herd, Danz still has about 70 head of steers to finish, an enterprise that he plans to discontinue in order to have room to raise his heifers.
    Danz is looking forward to bringing his 92-year-old grandfather to the barn to see his new herd of cows.
    “I think seeing the milk cows back in this barn will make him happy,” Danz said.